UVA Athletics logo design flap: It’s time for us to confront the uncomfortable

new uva logoUVA found out recently that it had stepped in it with a new athletics logo design that inadvertently celebrated slavery.

Had to be that somebody found something in a decades-old, dusty book on a bookshelf, right?

Nah.

Try 2018.

“Even though the high walls of the gardens were designed to limit the ability of the enslaved to see beyond them and to essentially isolate the enslaved from contact with anyone outside the walls, they would not function that way in reality. The walls were also intended as barriers separating people owned by one faculty member or hotelkeeper from another and designed to make it easier for their owners to monitor their enslaved people.”

This is from a report on “Slavery and the University” commissioned by then-UVA President Teresa Sullivan that was published in 2018.

The April news release from Virginia Athletics touting the new logo design reported that the design was the result of an 18-month collaborative process led by Nike and including discussions with UVA coaches, student-athletes and administrators.

Somebody in that process had the bright idea to suggest the walls as a possibly neat design feature.

Here’s where I concede that as a UVA alum, I’d never spent a moment’s time thinking about those walls, much less considering them at all emblematic to the UVA experience.

But, OK, so obviously, somebody did, and convinced other somebodies to sign off on the idea.

It’s hard to imagine that one of these somebodies didn’t think to use the old Googler, at the least.

It’s a surprise to me that a somebody didn’t think of the 2018 report.

Eighteen months back from April 2020 is October 2018.

The date on the report is July 2018.

It was three months old when folks started tinkering with the sabres.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that the report seems to have been intended to gather dust on a shelf, digitally speaking.

What else can you say, considering what we’re talking about today?

If that report had gained any traction in the University community, we’re not engaging in this discussion about the logo.

That one would died on the cutting-room floor.

Carla Williams, the AD, is taking the old fall on the sabres on this one, but this isn’t just on Williams.

This is an institutional failure that needs to be fixed more than the athletics department needed to update what had already been a perfectly adequate logo.

For starters, it’s probably past time for UVA to more publicly own up to its uncomfortable history with the institution of slavery.

That can turn this design nonsense into a good teaching moment for us all.

We could even try to turn this into something where UVA becomes a leader.

We lead in so many positive ways – world-class education, renowned teaching hospital, alums spread out across the globe doing great things.

This embarrassing episode can be the catalyst to us leading in confronting our shared ugly past as a bridge to building toward an inclusive and just future.

Story by Chris Graham


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